Florida State and Clemson are set to duel for a spot as one of football’s elite participants in the College Football Playoff for 2016. Both teams compete in the Atlantic Division, but either would heavily favored over any team coming out of the ACC’s Coastal Division.
Offensively Florida State is in solid hands. Sean Maquire returns as QB for the Seminoles, although he will be pushed hard for the starting position by redshirt freshman Deondre Francois, and Dalvin Cook returns at running back. Overall the Garnet and Gold return 9 starters on offense and 6 on defense. The opening game in Orlando with Ole Miss is a grave concern, and two weeks later a road game at Louisville awaits, but the game with Clemson on Oct. 29 is at home, as well as the season finale with Florida.
It’s hard not to count Clemson as the league front runner since Deshaun Watson is returning at QB for the Tigers, but defensively, Clemson has a lot of holes to fill. Only 4 starters return on defense. Clemson has recruited well, and coordinator Brent Venables has consistently produced outstanding defenses so don’t be surprised if the Tigers win the ACC……but that road game in Tallahassee could be a major stumbling block. Clemson opens the season at a re-surging Auburn which is very winnable but very tricky.
Louisville is loaded with talent and experience. The Cardinal will push Florida State and Clemson for the league title, facing the Seminoles at home on September 17th and Clemson in Death Valley on October 1, but the question as to whether or not Louisville can make that huge leap into title contender has yet to be answered. A late season game on the road with Houston on November 17th could turn into a huge game for both teams if the chips fall their way for both squads in the early part of the season. Wouldn’t that be an unexpected treat for college football!
The race for the Coastal Division in the ACC is wide open. North Carolina is expected to win, but the Tar Heels will find it very difficult to match last year’s surprising 8-0 division record. Miami’s hire of Mark Richt was nothing short of brilliant and could be exactly what the Hurricane have needed for years. Time will tell, but eventually I expect great success for Richt. It just feels like the perfect fit. It is not a stretch to think Miami could win the division this year, but the schedule is daunting. A brutal 5 game stretch in mid season will define this team. Florida State comes to town on October 8, followed consecutively by North Carolina, at Virginia Tech, at Notre Dame ( ACC schedule affiliated but a non-conference game ) and back home for Pittsburgh.The Coastal Division is so evenly balanced that any one of the top four contenders among North Carolina, Miami, Virginia Tech or Pittsburgh could easily take the crown.
Predicted Order of Finish:
Atlantic Division: Florida State, Clemson, Louisville, NC St., Wake Forest, Boston College, Syracuse
Coastal Division: North Carolina, Miami (Fla.), Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Duke, Virginia
Next up: Thursday July 21 – Pac 10.